The Single Monad

The Single Monad:

Borrowing his language from the atomist physical theories of earlier kalam theology, Ibn ‘Arabî sometimes refers to the created world as being made up of monads and forms, or in his technical language, of 'substances' (jawâhir, s. jawhar) and various changing 'accidents' (a‘râd, s. ‘arad) that inhere in and qualify those substances. In the process of manifestation, the substances appear to remain relatively constant, while the accidents do not stay for more than one moment. In this terminology, the 'monad' or substance (al-jawhar) is—as will be discussed shortly—a physical/metaphysical entity that exists by itself, whereas the 'form' or accident (al-‘arad) exists only through or by some particular monad. The monad, however, may appear in existence only by 'wearing' some form or another [II.179.26], so we do not see the monads but rather only the forms. Also Ibn ‘Arabî asserts that the monad exists by itself and its existence is constant and invariable, while the form exists only in the monad and its existence is temporal; it only exists at the time and then it vanishes instantly and intrinsically, and the same never comes back to existence again [II.677.30, III.452.24].

Generally jawhar signifies everything that exists in reality. Literally it originally meant 'jewel', but in this technical sense borrowed from the physical theory of kalam theology, it means 'substance'. In a very different philosophical context, the same Arabic word was used to translate the first of the ten Aristotelian categories already discussed in section II.1. In English, the word 'monad'—which we will regularly use here for jawhar—is derived from the Greek monados, and it means 'ultimate, indivisible unit'. It was used very early by the Greek philosophers of the doctrines of Pythagoras, and it was also used later, in a very different way, by the neo-Platonists to signify the One: thus God is described as the 'Monad of monads'.[1]
Like the neo-Platonists, Ibn ‘Arabî sometimes uses the term al-jawhar (monad) in this higher theological sense to refer to 'the one', 'the essence', 'the real' (not 'the Real' as a divine Name of God, but 'the real-through-whom-creation-takes-place', as discussed further below) and the origin of everything in the world. However, in such cases he does not seem to refer directly to the highest, transcendent dimension of 'God', but rather to the 'Universal/First Intellect' or the 'Pen' [II.675.6], who is also the 'Perfect Human Being'.
On the other hand, although in this theological or cosmological sense the term al-jawhar ordinarily refers to the one real essence of the world (of all creation), Ibn ‘Arabî also sometimes uses the same term in the plural form (jawâhir) to refer to the essences or souls/spirits (al-nufûs al-nâtiqa)—or more precisely, to the 'partial intellects' (al-‘uqûl al-juz’îyya, in contrast with the Universal Intellect, al-‘aql al-kullî, that is their origin)—of human beings who are the perceivers of the world. Even more generally, he sometimes uses it to refer to any entity (even inanimate ones) in the creation, whether angels, jinn, humans, animals, plants or metals. In this latter more generic sense he considers that everything in creation has a substance which is its monad (jawhar) and a particular form (‘arad) which is its appearance.

These very different dimensions and usages of the term ‘monad’/jawhar, however, are also intrinsically linked in Ibn ‘Arabî’s cosmology, since he argues that all the monads of the world are created by, and are therefore the 'images' (reflections, shadows, etc.) of the one Single Monad. Thus in that larger perspective of creation, they are nothing but different images of this one Single Monad that in reality may alone be described as having real existence [III.452.24].

[1] See EP, 'Monad and Monadology', vol.5: 361-3.

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